The mitochondria are organelles found in many different types of cells. They are often called the “power plant” or “powerhouse” of the cell because they produce the adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a source of chemical energy. However, they also have a number of other important functions within the cell as well. Mitochondria are tiny, with a diameter of approximately 0.5-1 micrometer (micron). This means that they cannot be seen with the human eye and require a microscope to view. Let’s find out who discovered this important organelle.
Who discovered the mitochondria?
There is no definitive answer to this question because the discovery of this organelle, and its function, was a continuing process. It is thought that the first observation of the mitochondria occurred in the 1840’s, but at this time no one was sure of what they were or what function they had. In 1857 Albert von Kölliker described granules in the cells (most likely mitochondria) and this discovery was followed by many other scientists. They were first identified as cell organelles by German pathologist Richard Altmann. He was studying animal cells and saw the small granules in the protoplasm within the cell. He named these granules bioblasts and hypothesized that they were basic units of cellular activity. Carl Benda was the first to name these granules mitochondria (from the Greek mitos, which means thread, and chondros, which means granule). The first scientist to correctly identify that the mitochondria were an important part of cellular respiration was B. F. Kingsbury in 1912. From here scientists were able to discover the important functions of this organelle.
Did you know?
British biochemist Peter D. Mitchell was the first to discover the method that ATP is created in the mitochondria. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1978.